Thu04242014

Last updateTue, 04 Nov 2014 9pm

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A lot of talk and little action in 2013

The Colonial Beach Town Council started the year 2013 feeling good about their involvement in helping the remaining residents of the BeachGate Inn, located at 800 Colonial Ave. in Colonial Beach, stay in their dwellings until after the holiday season and guiding them towards help in relocating to other places to live.

In December of 2012, during a fatal auto accident involving a pedestrian in its parking lot, several cars struck the motel, and a large portion of the building was structurally damaged. Upon examination of the building, the BeachGate Inn was ordered closed by Westmoreland County Building Inspector Dexter Monroe for several serious electrical violations.

Monroe was called in to inspect the buildings structure after a 72-year-old man, suffering from a medical condition, drove through the intersection of Euclid and Colonial Avenues, striking the motel’s sign, several cars in the parking lot and a pedestrian on December 19, 2012.

With nowhere else to go and many government agencies closed, residents were allowed to remain at the motel until after the holidays - only if steps were taken to ensure their safety.

After the New Year, the BeachGate Inn was vacated by 36 residents and boarded up. Town officials began researching how the motel could have slipped through the cracks of the inspection system, leaving living conditions so bad that it had to be shut down.

However, to date, no new policies have been put into place to prevent other transient motels in town from taking on full-time residents, and the BeachGate Inn remains in disrepair.

January 2013 also saw what some believed to be the “forced resignation” of Chief Kenneth Blevins, Sr.
On Jan. 10, Colonial Beach Police Department (CBPD) Chief of Police Kenneth Blevins, Sr. walked out of Town Center after attending a closed meeting with Colonial Beach Town Council and Town Manager Val Foulds. Blevins collected his belongings from his normal seat and left the building without speaking to anyone.

The council reconvened after the closed session, and Colonial Beach Town Attorney Andrea Erard read resolution 8-13, which stated that Kenneth Blevins, Sr. has faithfully served as the chief of police for the Town of Colonial Beach, and the town is grateful for his dedicated service. The resolution also announced Blevins’ resignation effective Jan. 10, which the town council accepted.

Blevins’ resignation was handwritten and simply stated, “To: Town Council...I hereby tender my resignation.” It was signed by Blevins.

CBPD Captain William Seay was appointed interim chief of police at a yearly salary of $60,000 by resolution 9-13. When the council members were asked for any comments, Colonial Beach Mayor Mike Ham presented the press with copies of a prepared typed statement. Erard also had a copy of resolution 9-13, naming Seay as interim chief prepared, as well.

After this bold move, the council embarked on a year of multiple meetings, many of which lasted for up to eight hours total and were spread over two separate days. Although several subjects were discussed in great detail, many have resulted in little or no legal action being taken. Towards the end of the year, the council finally abandoned that rigorous schedule and began limiting meetings to one work session and one regular meeting per month.

The council hired Whitestone Partners to head up a series of interviews and a survey to evaluate the way the town was being run. Despite spending $17,000 of taxpayers’ money to evaluate town staff, some council members believe they did not get answers to many of their questions. Council’s priority was a report on the performance of the town manager. Certain council members continued to ask for this report, and have, throughout the year, attempted to have several closed meetings to discuss the performance of the town manager.

When Whitestone finished its evaluation, they spent a full day reporting their findings and answering questions. The report’s results pointed more towards a need for change in the way the council conducted business, rather than any need for change in town employees’ practices.

In a special meeting of the town council on Monday, May 20, Whitestone Partners gave their assessment of how the town’s staff and council were functioning. Doug and Polly Whitestone summed up the day’s findings by presenting a picture of a cartoon character looking at himself in the mirror with the following caption, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”

Whitestone advised the council that they should act in a more supervisory role and allow the town’s staff to manage day-to-day operations without micro-management. Whitestone repeatedly suggested that the council set clearer goals for town staff and to let staff do their jobs.

Whitestone had four recommendations: set goals and objectives; develop a clear set of metrics (a measure of an organization’s activities and performance); hold people accountable, but make sure staff has the resources to complete their jobs; and for council to operate at an executive level.

Doug Whitestone clarified this last recommendation by saying, “Town council should function at the executive level and not get dragged down in the weeds. And personally taking responsibility for issues that really should be delegated to town government, such as setting broad goals, objectives and directions.”

The current town council has tried to pass several duties off to Westmoreland County under the umbrella of saving money. Some citizens would dispute that any money has been saved, but council continues to defend their decisions. Three of these duties included transferring CBPD dispatch to the county, the management of erosion and sediment control, and attempting to abolish CBPD, forcing Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office to take over law enforcement for the Town of Colonial Beach.

Fortunately, the police dispatch changed over just before the July 4th holiday without any problems. However, some town citizens have criticized the council, saying that the consolidation of dispatch will cost the town more money in the long run.

The council could not seem to come to a decision on duties of managing erosion and sediment control in a timely manner. As a result of that indecision, on April 1, building within the town came to a screeching halt when the Town of Colonial Beach sent out notices to all builders saying, “Effective as of April 1, any permit which proposes to increase the impervious area larger than 36% OR disturbs more than 2,500 square feet of soil will be reviewed at the Colonial Beach Department of Planning and Community Development for zoning and building only.”

The notice then stated that after being approved by the town, the builder would then have to also seek approval from the Westmoreland County Land Use Office for environmental permits and approvals. These steps would have to be completed in order to obtain zoning and/or building permits in Colonial Beach.

Staff had been warning the council that according to the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the town was currently non-compliant, due to the lack of an appropriate and current Erosion and Sediment Control (ESC) program. Although the town council did approve a new ESC program, money for implementation was no longer available.

On June 4, 2012, Mike Ham, who was the budget committee chairman at the time, proposed transferring $55,000 from the general fund line item, Contracts for Professional Services, to level fund the school system. These funds were earmarked for an erosion and sediment stormwater mandate, and were to be used to pay a professional to carry out the program.

Westmoreland County, with some resistance, eventually entered a memorandum of understanding to take over the erosion and sediment control duties for the Town of Colonial Beach on a temporary basis.

The council’s attempt to abolish the police department was met with strong citizen opposition, both through the press and in person. Letters to the editors of the local papers were written in support of CBPD, and despite holding an early morning meeting, the council was surprised with the citizen attendance supporting CBPD.  Although the crowd did not reach “standing room only”, few chairs were left empty at the Nov. 14 special council meeting to discuss CBPD.

A wide array of concerned citizens attended the early morning meeting. Although each speaker had their own unique reasons for speaking out about CBPD, 100% of the speakers said they support Colonial Beach having its own police force, support the CBPD in place now, and the majority said that the council needed to be more specific about their intentions.

The idea of abolishing CBPD was immediately dropped, but the events of that morning meeting lead to the resignation of Councilman Tim Curtin who felt that members of council who were originally in favor of abolishing CBPD had caved to citizen pressure, and this angered him.

Curtin left the morning meeting on Nov. 14, returning within the hour with a typed resignation stating that he joined council to address grave concerns for the future of the town and the need for hard decisions. Curtin felt that the council was not working together towards a common goal. He said in his resignation, “I have tried to be patient and wait for the consensus to emerge on Council that would convince me that at least some of my concerns are shared. I have spent an enormous amount of time in meetings and discussions that would have otherwise been spent with my family or in the pursuit of my career. I no longer believe that day will come with the current council.”

Curtin summed up his feelings, attacking his constituents by saying, “I cannot justify continuing to waste my time waiting for a day to come when this town, and its elected leaders face up to hard decisions that will come, no matter what the desires or sentiments exists to maintain the status quo. Therefore, I must resign my seat on the Colonial Beach Town Council effective immediately.”

At the Dec. 12 council meeting, despite having interviewed two applicants, Linda Crandell and Polly Parks, the town council could not reach a consensus on whom to appoint to fill the vacant seat left by Curtin. The council voted five to one to appoint George “Pete” Bone to serve until a special election. Bone had previously served as mayor for the Town of Colonial Beach from 1996 to 2008, when he decided not to run for re-election.

Throughout the year, the council has passed several resolutions, which covered appointments to various groups, authorizing staff to execute leases and other agreements, as well as limiting staff activity, such as enacting a hiring freeze. Resolutions, however, are not binding by law, as is the case with ordinances.

Of the 32 ordinances dealt with by council this year, over one-third handle the legal aspects of selling off small, unused portions of land the town owns as “right of ways”.

About another one-third of the ordinances were amendments to zoning ordinances that had come from the Colonial Beach Planning Commission, with recommendations for action to the council.

Ordinances concerning tax increases were met with strong opposition by the newer members, but came with a price. Council members have yet to clean up some budget shortfalls for fiscal year 2013-2014.

The current council of 2013 was made up of several members who were fairly new to the council, and most of whom had little or no previous experience in politics. They came in with a genuine desire to make things better, but it has taken some time for them to become versed in the procedural aspect of conducting public business in either an orderly or a timely manner.

The council now has two seasoned members, Gary Seeber and Pete Bone, both of which have served on council previously. This may benefit the town greatly in the upcoming year. The council is entering 2014 with a lot of unfinished business, as well as two major tasks. The council must implement a new floodplain ordinance or residents will lose the ability to buy flood insurance, and the council will be seeing a large influx of ordinances, documents and programs, which will need approval in order to be ready to reapply (for the third time) for a $997,000 revitalization grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Linda Farneth

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